Root Beer Rag

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"Root Beer Rag"
Label to the US single release as B-side of "Big Shot"
Single by Billy Joel
from the album Streetlife Serenade
A-side "Big Shot" (US)
"Until the Night" (UK)
"Honesty" (Japan & others)
Released October 11, 1974 (album)
1979 (single)
Recorded Devonshire Sound, North Hollywood, CA
Genre Ragtime
Length 2:59
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Michael Stewart

"Root Beer Rag" is a song from Billy Joel's 1974 album Streetlife Serenade. An instrumental track in a very fast ragtime style, it was later released as the B-side of several singles from Joel's 52nd Street album, including "Big Shot" in the US, "Until the Night" in the UK, and "Honesty" in Japan and some European countries. A live version was included with the DVD that was part of the 30th anniversary re-release of The Stranger.

The German a cappella group Wise Guys recorded a notable cover version of the song.[1] The original version by Joel was also used as the theme music to a 1980s sports program in New Zealand broadcast by TV One. It was also used in the 1980s on Radio Bayern 3 in Germany for the Saturday and Sunday late morning show called Musikbox. The song is in C major and is one of three studio instrumentals that he has released.

"Root Beer Rag" was also the name of a Billy Joel newsletter (now defunct) published in the late 1970s to early 1980s.

In response to an audience question about the song's origin during one of Joel's musical lectures, Joel gave the following explanation:

I got my first Moog Synthesizer. This was in the mid 70s and I got my first Moog and I put it on every record. I said 'I have to write an instrumental where I can use this Moog Synthesizer. It kinda turned me off the synthesizers forever after. That's why I wrote that song. Just purely out of stupid self-indulgence.[2]

Author Ken Bielen describes "Root Beer Rag" as a fast ragtime piano work.[3] Joel biographer Hank Bordowitz describes the song as "homebrewed ragtime.".[4] Other instruments include Moog synthesizer, pedal steel guitar and drums, the latter of which are played with drum brushes.[3] A figure used in the beginning and then throughout the song is similar to one that Joel would use the introductions of later songs, including "Prelude/Angry Young Man."[3]

Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls "Root Beer Rag" "admittedly enjoyable" and suggests that it was influenced by the movie The Sting and that movie's Scott Joplin-based soundtrack.[5]

In 2014, the song was featured in the documentary film Life Itself.

Notable cover versions[edit]

  • As abovementioned, the song was covered by the Wise Guys.
  • Richard Clayderman released a cover of the song in 1983.
  • Silvan Zingg included the song on his 2005 album Boogie Woogie Trilogy.
  • Rich Holly's percussion ensemble arrangement with soloist Jeff Senley on the O-Zone Percussion Group's Whiplash album.
  • Dagmar Krug released a single of "Root Beer Rag" as a tribute to Joel in 2012.
  • Johnny Lingo's 2010 album Somewhere To Go features the song.[6]


  1. ^ Video of Wise Guys performing "Root Beer Rag" live on TV on YouTube
  2. ^ Joel, Billy. An Evening of Questions & Answers and Perhaps a Few Songs. Video.
  3. ^ a b c Bielen, K. (2011). The Words and Music of Billy Joel. ABC-CLIO. p. 31. ISBN 9780313380167. 
  4. ^ Bordowitz, H. (2006). Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man. Random House. p. 79. ISBN 9780823082483. 
  5. ^ Erlewine, S.T.. "Streetlife Serenade". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  6. ^ [All covers referenced from iTunes Store; retrieved 16.2.13]

External links[edit]